President Vladimir Putin of Russia has broken his silence on the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of Wagner, a private military company.
Prigozhin died in a plane crash that resulted in the deaths of 10 people.
Prigozhin, who fought on the Russian side in the war against Ukraine, had rebelled against Putin in June.
Although the issue was later resolved, many had said Putin marked him for punishment, but the Russian leader looked away.
When news of Prigozhin’s death broke on Wednesday, there were conspiracy thoughts that Putin had a hand in it.
There were speculations that the aircraft in which the Wagner boss was flying at the time of the incident was brought down by Russian forces.
President Joe Biden of US had accused Putin of usually having a hand in unsavoury developments in and around Russia.
“I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised. here is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind, but I don’t know enough to know the answer,” Biden told newsmen when asked to comment on the crash.
However, Putin has remained silent on the issue which caught global headlines.
But speaking at a meeting with head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the Russian leader said Prigozhin was “a man of difficult fate, but talented.”
“Indeed, if there were [in the crashed plane], and the initial data seem to indicate that there were employees of the Wagner company.”
“I would like to note that these are people who have made a significant contribution to our common cause of fighting the neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine. We remember this, we know and we will not forget.
“I have known Prigozhin for a very long time, since the early 1990s. He was a man of difficult fate, and he made serious mistakes in life, and achieved the desired results. Both for himself, and when I asked him about it for a common cause, as in these last months.
“He was a talented man, a talented businessman. He worked not only in our country, but also abroad, in Africa.
Putin said the Wagner chief had, as far as he knew, recently returned from Africa before the crash Wednesday.
Putin said that, based on preliminary information, “Wagner Group employees were also on board” the plane when it went down.
He sent his condolences to “the families of all the victims; this is always a tragedy.”
“There is no doubt here. Let’s see what the investigators say in the near future. And now examinations — technical examinations and genetic ones — are being carried out. This will take some time,” Putin added.